Category Archives: Student Affairs/Higher Education

How I network best

I’ve been really enjoying doing some “low-key networking from my desk” over the past few months.  I’ve been slowly connecting with people (mostly through twitter) and inviting them to have a phone chat with me.

Typically on these chats I ask them two questions:

1)      What is it that you do? What is your current role? What does it mean…etc
2)      How did you get there? What was your journey?

Most of the time, this easily fills a 30 minute phone conversation with someone.

I’ve found that while as professionals there is often that huge push to go to a conference, publish in a publication, or present at a conference.  Many of us are going to these conferences to bring things back to our home campuses.  Many of us are also going just to network with other professionals.

I typically go for both reasons.  I find, however, that while at conferences I usually spend a lot of time sitting down with people and having a 1:1 chat.  I realized this past fall that I can easily do this from my desk or living room.

The upside of having good networking chats not at a conference is that there are limited conference interruptions (friends walking by saying hi…etc), I don’t have to worry about my tie being tied too tightly, and I know that I can write down their name (instead of staring awkwardly at their nametag…on their chest…) to try to remember their name at that key moment in conversation.

How do you network best? What are some tips/tools that you use?


Daily Professional Development

I think it’s a great challenge: how do I balance doing my work on a daily basis and growing in my work on a daily basis. This is the struggle of professional development.

For some, we go to an annual or regional conference once a year, attend sessions, take notes – then come back and say “I’m going to implement change” – only to find out that the system we work in is not actually ready for any change to occur. Or, perhaps that example that was shared at the conference actually will not work well at my own campus.

I try to hit some degree of professional development daily. It does not always work – I need to be honest there. But, here are some ways I get some professional development daily:

– Twitter – While I am not super active, I am around enough to follow what is out there and to re-tweet from time to time. I’ve heard the phrase “lurking is learning” – that’s what I stick with most days.

– Reading – I read more books and articles than blogs these days. But, from time to time, there’s a blog that drops on my lap that I enjoy reading.

– Conversations! This is huge for me – two types of conversations.

  • First with those at my current institution and in my department at my own level- actual face to face conversations. Typically this might start as a venting moment or a “oh my, did you hear x” conversation. Then it quickly leads to a “huh, I would have done it this way” type conversation. That’s how I learn. Getting critical (and honest) feedback from those around me.
  • The other type of conversations that I enjoy are those with professional colleagues in other departments or at other institutions. This is a great way for me to gain an outside perspective or a fresh insight into any questions or struggles that I have.

– Reflecting – as an introvert, this is how I learn the best. I take time to think critically about what I do, what I’ve seen, what is occurring around me, and I think about it. Sometimes these thoughts result in blog posts, sometimes they result in good conversations with those that I supervise or co-workers, and sometimes I just say “come on Brian, you can do better!” I think this is what runners use running time to do. I don’t run that much, but when I do I am busy listening to a podcast, not reflectively thinking.

– LISTSERVs—I’ve managed to get myself onto about four different LISTSERVs. Some of them I don’t think I should be on- but some I totally should be on. While I’m not usually the “vocal LISTSERV” participant, I am always reading and often learning a lot from them!

– Facebook group – A few weeks back I was invited to join the ResLifePros Facebook group. Currently there are over 500 members of this group! Wow, that’s a lot of people with (potentially) great ideas! I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the various tools out there.

So, with these ideas on ways I get professional development daily – what are some tactics you use? How do you grow as a professional?

Dealing with change: when you are not so thrilled with it…

I’m in a department that is going through change.  Similar to every other department I’ve ever worked with or for (even as an Undergrad!) – we are going through some change.  The specifics of our change don’t matter for this post.

This post is all about how you, as a professional, deal with the change.
I wrote a post a while back about Feeling Frustrated.  I also wrote about Being Solution Focused.
When I think about these two posts, it really helps me dial in to what I believe is a great way to deal with change.

To start with, I think there are multiple types of change.

First, systemic change.  This is a new state law, or the Chancellor/President of the institution has made a new decision/policy.headache-pain

The fact of the matter is that you will have no control over this change.  My role is to figure out what needs to be done, figure out how to share the message with those below me, and move forward.

I think this is one of those places where people turn negative quickly.  (see the feeling frustrated post again)  For me, it’s all about figuring out how to move forward.  I do spend a little bit talking with co-workers to figure out what is going on and venting- but a lot of my energy is spent on remaining positive and figuring out what is next for me.  I have worked hard in my current role to gravitate towards other professionals who are positive about situations.  Truthfully am I frustrated!? Sure! But, if I spend my time focusing on the positive, I’ll be happier in the end.

Next up would be change from right above me.  Maybe the departmental director wants to change something, or my supervisor wants a process changed, or perhaps we have a new staffing pattern.  All of these changes are something that can really give me (or anyone else) a huge headache!

Again, for me it is all about figuring out what I can control in the situation.  Sometimes, those above me ask for my input.  Sometimes I’m just a drone in the machine making things happen.  Either way, I keep my positive stance and figure out what is the right way for me to move forward.

Change below happens all the time.  This is when one of my staff does something that changes their employment status.  This could also be when a resident does something that really changes how my day is going.  I think with stuff like this, it is important for me to look at the bigger picture.  What is me getting all upset going to do to/with/for this situation.  I might still get frustrated, but taking that moment to pause and think through the whole situation and what outcome I need to happen- before moving forward- really helps me.

Now, I don’t want to pretend like I’m all daisies and roses every day.  Those who know me will know this for sure!  I do get frustrated with the best of them!  However, I’ve really taken time to think through why I have the position I have.  Why am I doing this job.  What are the things out there that would make me want to quit my job or search for a new position.  There is a list (proverbially).

I co-presented a webinar on this basic topic in spring of 2013.  We are called it “What if I don’t like my _____?”  The whole presentation is about really taking a look at your situation and deciding what you can and cannot live with.  If you are interested in viewing the webinar, feel free to click here.  The webinar was sponsored/presented by the Professional Foundations committee of GLACUHO.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts about how you stay positive when change happens that you are not ok with.   Hope you enjoyed the webinar!

Being the Leader all the Time

I tweeted this the other day:

“As a supervisor, every interaction counts & is a fantastic opportunity to nurture the valuable members of your team”

I had just had a fantastic hour and a half hanging out with the Graduate Assistant that I supervise.  We had finished the work day and walked over to the Physics building where they were having an afternoon astronomy gazing.  Then we went to dinner together in one of the dining halls.

While it was 100% unstructured time, it was a great opportunity for the two of us to just talk.  Granted, we crossed over all sorts of different topics during our conversation.  As her supervisor I really valued having that time to chat.  It was great to share parts of me that I had not yet shared, to learn about her experiences, and to do some combined brainstorming about our supervision area.

I know many have said that you are “always on” as the leader.  I completely agree with this.  Part of being “always on” is realizing what each moment can truly bring.  For the two of us, the 90 minutes spent together walking around campus, gazing through a telescope, and eating was full of extremely valuable time spent investing in our professional relationship.

So, if somehow your schedule hands you an extra spot of time with someone you supervise – take advantage of it!  Use that time to connect beyond the daily grind of your position.  Invest in your relationship!

Mission Statement as a Team Builder

I was just reflecting back to our Graduate Assistant training and a session our Associate Director led during the early parts of training.  She took our mission statement and made a 30 min team builder/ice breaker out of it.  It was so simple yet completely brilliant.

She had the mission statement up on the screen and facilitated a series of questions to help the GAs and other full time staff in the room have a conversation about the different aspects of the mission statement.

Basic questions she asked:

  • What do you see in the mission statement that impacts our students?
  • What are some specific words or phrases you see in the mission statement that drive your day to day work?
  • Share from your experiences how individual words or phrases help you to do what you do.

What blew me away by this activity, aside from how simple it was, is the way it brought the old and new staff together.  I found myself, as a returning staff member, sharing experiences I had from the previous year which really made one aspect of the mission statement shine.  I also found myself learning so much about the new staff members (grad and pro staff alike) that excited me about working with them this year.

What sorts of activities have you done to help staff understand (and know) the mission statement? 

Staying firm on expectations

I’ve been attending a training lately about helping students and colleagues in crisis.  The sessions have been taught by the head of our counseling office.  Last week we were talking about how to diffuse a situation specifically with the angry or irate person.

She taught us this great mnemonic device:  

  • L: Listen
  • E: Empathize
  • A: Ask Questions
  • P: Paraphrase
  • S: Summarize

Then, as she explained how to use it, she shared with us that at some point in the conversation you will set some expectations of the person.  Maybe you will ask them to sit down or move to a different location…etc.  Then she said: “it is really important that you stay firm on the expectations that you set.”

The light bulb went off in my head as to how many other things this applies to!  While yes, these are great tactics to use when you are trying to calm down a resident/student/colleague in crisis, these are also really great tools to use when supervising.

In my experience, your supervisee’s will respect you more if you are firm with expectations.  This boils down to three big things.

  1. set the expectations – Spend time really thinking through what it is you want out of each interaction/situation.  If you want your staff to send you an email at x time with y information in a specific format, then tell them!
  2. explain them – Take the time before your first 1:1 with a new staff  member to explain to them what a 1:1 should look like (for you).
  3. stand by them – You need to hold your staff accountable to your expectations.  This is really the focus of this whole post.

As we hold our staff accountable, they will respect us more and know how to work with us better.  Part of making your supervisor happy can make you feel better about your job and enjoy what you do more.

Interestingly enough, going back to the L.E.A.P.S. device, that’s a great way to remember and think about active listening – but, that’s a whole different blog post.

How are you at standing firm with your expectations?

Giving RAs feedback

“If you keep sweeping it under the rug, you will trip over it”
This is the quote I heard the other day & it sparked a note with me.

I think we do this a lot.  When we are afraid of confrontation or don’t want to confront something.

In this post, I want to talk specifically about supervising undergraduate housing staff & providing them with direct and constructive feedback.  For this post, I will use the term “RA” to signify Resident Assistant, Community Assistant…etc or whatever it is that you or your institution might use.

I think it is crucial in building a successful RA team to provide them with specific and direct feedback.  I readily acknowledge that not every staff member wants feedback the same way, however I think as a supervisor giving consistent and timely feedback is very important.

  • Be direct.  While some of us get butterflies in our stomachs when we need to be ‘critical’ it is the only way that our staff will learn to perform better.  Be direct.  It is worse if you ‘beat around the bush’ than if you get straight to the point.
  • Sandwich method works!  For some of us, doing the ‘good – bad – good’ type of feedback works better!  I remember that I’ve used this technique many times.  “Hey, you did a great job planning x program.  Your program evaluation was late and that is unacceptable.  However, I also appreciate how well you advertised for this event.”
  • Be specific.  “You constantly have side conversations in meetings” vs “Today during our staff meeting it was very distracting when you turned to Joe several times to engage in a side conversation.”  Which is clearer for you?  The second one.  As a supervisor, it gives you less wiggle room for the student to say “uh, I didn’t do that.”  As a supervisee, it allows the employee to say “oh, so that’s exactly what my supervisor doesn’t like.  I can fix that.”
  • Be timely.  This is so important, but also sometimes very tricky.  As a supervisor, when we see something that needs to be addressed, we need to make sure we track the student staff member down and provide them with the feedback as soon as we can.  I know I’ve had staff members in the past who seem to be ‘suddenly very busy’ when they know I’ve got to address a behavioral concern with them.
  • Provide both positive & constructive feedback!  While this whole blog post is targeted at the idea of providing ‘tough’ feedback, it is important to be direct, specific, and timely with positive praise as well.
  • Follow it up in writing!  I learned this trick from Deb Schmidt-Rodgers.  After each meeting with a student where I give feedback (positive or negative) I provide them with an email afterwards which spells out the specific feedback that they have been given.  Often times this reminds me of things I had wanted to bring up but didn’t.  Or, it helps me to phrase things in a different way that might hit home better.  Also, I’ve found that many of the more ‘challenging’ conversations I’ve had with my staff, the email has opened the door for them to respond to me and engage me in a conversation about the concern – after they have had time to process their thoughts about whatever the feedback was.

Back to the quote that spawned this post, “If you keep sweeping it under the rug, you will trip over it.”  You need to give feedback to avoid this problem.  It is important to be direct, be specific, timely, and then be sure to provide both positive and negative feedback.

What other tips should be added?

Cyber-Bullying: An approach to end/prevent it.

Saw this on FB the other day:

Name Removed:
Thinks that we forget that bullying isn’t just teasing. Yet, that’s what we focus on. I believe its as important to focus on how to be assertive without being a bully. Without that, kids turn into adults who bully-customers in stores and restaurants, colleagues, friends, and significant others. The very same people kids watch us interact with. Stop the cycle. Don’t be a bully and tell people who are – even adults.

When I started at the boarding school (several years ago in a previous life), I was caught off guard by how much bullying occurred & how much it was a concept we talked about during our staff meetings almost every week.  As a school, we had no idea what to do with this.  We were clueless.
In my previous position as a Graduate Hall Director, we found bullying occurs at many different levels — but we see the most of it in the form of students sending nasty messages about or to one another via facebook and twitter.  As an institution (the greater institution of Higher Education),  I feel like we can react to this behavior – but, we don’t seem to have a tool in-place to prevent it.

In my previous-previous life (so, before the boarding school), I worked for Mothers Against Drunk Driving as a alcohol educator.  My job was to travel around the country and both educate k-12 students about the dangers of drinking and driving — and also to work with grass-roots organizing groups of teens trying to curb such behavior in their community.  With these students we talked about a concept called ‘environmental prevention.’ 

For my Environmental Prevention sessions — I went through this explanation called the “dogs and fleas” analogy.  The basic idea is that it is really hard to get rid of fleas.  So, you have to really think about the whole bigger picture & not just give your dog a flea bath every once and a while.  But, even if you flea-bomb your house & wash the dog, your dog might still get fleas from hanging around the neighbor’s animal.
Translating this to alcohol prevention, you need to work with your students on campus to educate them, to provide awesome alternatives across campus, collaborate with the local police to step-up enforcement efforts, partnership with local establishments to enhance carding and reduce selling to underage individuals, and work with the legislators to change laws.  You really attack the problem from all angles.

I’m sure there is a way to combat bullying – specifically cyber-bullying by using environmental prevention.  I have about 1/2 the plan mapped out in my head.  The other 1/2 is still a work in progress.

What do you think? Can environmental prevention be a way to get ahead & help to prevent bullying – rather than merely react to bullying?


I’ve been attending a training lately about helping students and colleagues in crisis. The sessions have been really interesting. At one point we were talking about how to build trust with individuals who are in crisis mode. One of the tactics the facilitator was explaining was all about how we need to be honest and admit mistakes when/if we made them with such individuals. We talked about this in contrast to the opposite – which would be telling lies, deflecting answers, avoiding topics…etc. The basic premise was all about building trust which would help to diffuse the situation.

I jotted this note down:

Being honest + admitting mistakes = builds trust >>> SUPERVISION!
Obviously triggering in my mind that this also applies to supervision.

For readers who have read my blog a lot in the past, you will know that I love talking about and thinking about how I supervise & how I can supervise better. While I am not going to go out and say that I purposefully deflect or lie to those that I supervise, I do admit that I have been known to occasionally sugar coat things.

As I reflect about this concept, I think about the difference between being honest and admitting mistakes vs deflecting or avoiding topics and how this impacts those that I supervise.

I know when my supervisor (or past supervisors) say “I can’t answer that,” I respect them more. While I still really want to know the answer, I realize that they have heard my question and are being honest with me. I then respect and trust them more.

For those who know me at all, you know that I am quick to admit mistakes. I have no problem telling those that I work with and for that I have messed up. Just the other day I sent an email asking for a piece of information I had already received. Once I figured it out, I was quick to send an apology email – even pointed out that I felt foolish! For me, this is all about being honest with those that you work with.

What do you think about how this concept? Do you feel that being honest and admitting mistakes builds trust, which helps make you a stronger supervisor? How? Why?

This post was posted on on July 2, 2012.

#oneword 2012

Last year, my #oneword was ‘Strive’ – I shared with you all a great activity that I did with my RA’s and how much fun it was for them to come up with a word & then for me to run with it as the word I wanted to use for myself!

This year, my #oneword is a word I’ve been saying almost daily in my job.  I wish I did this more.  I wish other folks did this more.  I know that I CAN do this more.  I intend on doing this more.

My word for 2012 is ‘Sharing.’  No cool graphic this year to illustrate it (sorry!).

I debated doing ‘Share’ vs ‘Sharing’ – and decided on the verb/action because I want to do more of it this year.

For me there are two parts of this goal:

1) Personal life – I don’t do a good job at sharing what goes on with me with those around me.  I can do better.  This is the bigger part of the goal.

2) Professional life – I work at a large-ish institution within a large-ish department.  I can do a better job at sharing the triumphs of the area that I work in, sharing the ideas/mechanisms that I use in my area, and also at encouraging others to share their great ideas as well.

So, while last year I was pushing others (and myself) to ‘Strive’ to do better — this year, I’m pushing myself and others to be a better part of the community that is ‘Sharing.’

What is your #oneword2012 ?

How could you be better at ‘Sharing’?